Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

What circumstances led Paul Laurence Dunbar to discount the value of his dialect poems? Were he writing today, what circumstances might encourage him to value dialect poems more?

To what extent do Dunbar’s poems in standard English reflect his African American identity?

How does the mask function generally in Dunbar’s poetry and specifically in the poem “We Wear the Mask”?

Many modern-day poets and readers regard adherence to meter as a limitation on the poet’s freedom. Explain how its use, including its irregularities, contribute to the effect of Dunbar’s poems.

What lessons can a young black person accustomed to, and comfortable with, black English but resistant to, or unsuccessful in, standard English learn from Dunbar?